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Willy Street Co-op turns a profit after a $317,000 loss

Willy Street Co-op turns a profit after a $317,000 loss

Willy Street Co-op

The Willy Street Co-op will open a third location in the former Pierce's Northside Market in August, and will be the first Willy Street Co-op to accept WIC benefits. Willy West (pictured) opened in Middleton in 2011.

The opening of a third location next month wasn’t the only big announcement touted at the Willy Street Co-op annual meeting last week.

Anya Firszt, the co-op’s general manager, told the crowd of about 5,000 at Central Park on Thursday that the co-op is out of the red and was profitable during the 2016 fiscal year that ended July 3.

In the 2015 fiscal year the co-op had sales of $41.5 million, a three percent increase over 2014, but lost $317,000. Budget proposals going into the 2016 fiscal year called for reducing spending on labor by $275,000. The plan froze merit pay, issued one percent cost-of-living adjustments in the fall and spring, cut administrative costs by 7.5 percent and suspended the 401(k) employer match for calendar year 2016.

Firszt said sales in 2016 topped $45 million, a nine percent increase over 2015, and led to a $300,000 profit.

Anya Firszt

Anya Firszt is general manager of the Willy Street Co-op.

"We started the fiscal year with some cuts to nearly all expenses, for example staff did not expect to receive raises or a 401(k) match," Firszt said in a release. "But because sales were consistently over budget each quarter for the year, and expenses were managed extremely well, we earned a profit. A portion of those profits were shared with staff. We also were able to award a cost of living adjustment to staff last fall and this past spring. That is worth celebrating."

The co-op was founded in 1974, has over 33,000 owners and stores on Williamson Street and in Middleton. Brendon Smith, a spokesman for the co-op, said the increase in sales came after the store at 1221 Williamson St. was reorganized. The co-op completed a $4 million remodeling project in 2014 that added a full-service meat counter, hot food bar and an expansive cheese area. It also included higher shelving for more product display, an expanded courtyard, a pizza oven and more room in the back of the store for dry storage, and refrigerated and frozen foods. The layout of products was also changed but co-op owners had a less than warm response, Smith said.

Willy Street Co-op

A cheese and sampling area like this one at the Willy Street Co-op on Williamson Street will be part of a new store for the co-op at the Northside TownCenter. The 20,000-square-foot store is scheduled to open next month in a space that had been home to Pierce's Northside Market.

"They didn't find the layout intuitive and were sometimes assuming that we didn't have products that we actually did have. So we improved the flow and immediately saw some improvement," Smith said.

Other initiatives included soliciting ideas from staff to create better efficiency. The store had also budgeted for more sales to be lost to the nearby Festival Foods, 810 E. Washington Ave., that opened in April but so far the impact has not been as great as anticipated, Smith said.

The new co-op store, at 2817 N. Sherman Ave., is in the Northside TownCenter and located in a 20,000-square-foot space that had been home until May to a Pierce’s Northside Market. A firm opening date has not yet been announced but a mid-August target is being eyed, Smith said.

Willy Street

A freshly paved and marked parking lot is waiting for customers at what will be a Willy Street Co-op in the former space occupied by Pierce's Northside Market. Pierce's closed earlier this month. The co-op is scheduled to open in August.

Owners, customers and the curious will soon have a chance to get a sneak peek at the new space sans groceries. An open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 31 will allow visitors to tour the store before products are stocked on the shelves. The event will include food samples, an ownership drive and a chance to ask questions about the co-op and its operations.


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